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LETTER TO THE EDITOR - The Lancet
Posted 1 August 2001
We recently had a letter printed in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet:
Sir--You rightly condemn the use of violence against staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences.1 You are wrong, however, to say it has brought the debate on animal research to the forefront; ironically, the one thing missing in the media coverage of the protests is any kind of debate about the issue that is generating so much strong feeling.
You admit the difficulties of trying to model human disease in animals. Dennis Henner, senior vice-president of Genentech says that use of animal models in research is inherently risky because of the lack of predictability, and concludes that animal models could mislead researchers.2
The solution is blindingly simple: to use human models for human diseases. (Tissue samples must be donated with fully informed consent, of course.) At a stroke, differences between species, which have plagued biomedical research for decades, would be eliminated. The reliabilty of safety prediction in drug testing would be substantially improved. Adverse drug reactions are currently the fourth leading cause of death in the USA and account for up to 70 000 deaths a year in the UK, due, in large part, to the use of animals to predict toxic effects in human beings. Yet the results of a 10-year multicentre assessment of in-vitro cytotoxicology have shown that use of human tissues to predict human hazard is more accurate than any protocol involving animals or their tissues.3
As an example, TRAIL was a promising new cancer drug that seemed safe and effective in mice and monkeys. Tests on human liver cells in culture showed, however, that the drug was highly toxic and would cause liver damage or failure. On the other hand, Hoffman LaRoche asked Physiome Sciences to test a cardiac drug on their virtual heart, after animal tests proved inconclusive, and the US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug based on Physiome's computer tests.
You cite public support for essential animal work, but many surveys show most people abhor animal experimentation.4,5 This issue is clearly of concern to around 30 million people in the UK. I do not believe your predicted increase in the use of primates in genomic research will be acceptable to them.
Persuading regulatory authorities to accept validated alternatives, and helping to speed the validation process, are useful contributions that could be made by scientific organisations, and the government should give financial incentives to reward such efforts.
As the prime function of such authorities is, indeed, to ensure the safety of the public, they should act with urgency to accept and mandate the use of tests and techniques that are, beyond any doubt, more safe and reliable for human health.
Animal Aid, The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1AW, UK
- Editorial. Animal research in the post-genome era. Lancet 2001; 357: 817.
- Dove A. CD18 trials disappoint again. Nat Biotech 2000; 18: 817-18.
- Clemedson C, Ekwall B. Overview of the Final MEIC Results: I. The In Vitro--In Vitro Evaluation. Toxicol In Vitro 1999; 13: 657-63.
- Aldhous P, Coghlan A, Copley J. Animal experiments: let the people speak. New Scientist 1999; 2187: 26-31.
- Travis A, Treanor J. Guardian Jan 23, 2001.